Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

the mind, as to be ready for ufe upon every occafion. Now, in order to a deep impreffion, it is wifely contrived, that things fhould be introduced to our acquaintance, with a certain pomp and folemnity productive of a vivid emotion. When the impreffion is once fairly made, the emotion of novelty, being no longer neceffary, vanisheth almoft inftantaneously; never to return, unless where the impreffion happens to be obliterated by length of time, or other means, in which cafe the fecond introduction hath nearly the fame folemnity with the first.

Defigning wisdom is no where more legible than in this part of the human frame. If new objects did not affect us in a very peculiar manner, their impreffions would be fo flight as fcarce to be of any ufe in life: on the other hand, did objects continue to affect us as deeply as at first, the mind would be totally ingroffed with them, and have no room left either for action or reflection.

The final caufe of furprife is ftill more evident than of novelty. Self-love makes us vigilantly attentive to felf-prefervation; but felf-love, which operates by means of reafon and reflection, and impels not the mind to any particular object or from it, is a principle too cool for a fudden emergency: an object breaking in unexpectedly, affords no time for deliberation; and, in this cafe, the agitation of furprise is artfully contri

ved to roufe felf-love into action: furprise gives the alarm; and if there be any appearance of danger, our whole force is inftantly fummoned up to fhun or to prevent it.

VOL. I.

R

CHAP.

CHA P. VII.

RISIBLE OBJECTS.

S

UCH is the nature of man, that his powers and faculties are foon blunted by exercise. The returns of fleep, fufpending all activity, are not alone fufficient to preferve him in vigor during his waking hours, amufement by intervals is requifite to unbend his mind from ferious occupation. The imagination, of all our faculties the most active, and not always at rest even in fleep, contributes more than any other caufe to recruit the mind, and restore its vigor, by amufing us with gay and ludicrous images; and when relaxation is neceffary, fuch amusement is much relished, But there are other fources of amufement befide the imagination: many objects, natural as well as artificial, may be distinguished by the epithet of rifible, because they raife in us a peculiar emotion expreffed externally by laughter: this emotion is pleasant; and being alfo mirthful, it most fuccessfully unbends the mind, and recruits the spirits,

Ludicrous is a general term, fignifying, as may appear from its derivation, what is playfome, fportive, or jocular. Ludicrous therefore feems the genus, of which rifible is a fpecies, limited as above to what makes us laugh,

However

However eafy it may be, concerning any particular object, to fay whether it be risible or not; it feems difficult, if at all practicable, to establish any general character, by which objects of this kind may be distinguished from others. Nor is this a fingular cafe; for upon a review, we find the fame difficulty in most of the articles already handled. There is nothing more easy, viewing a particular object, than to pronounce that it is beautiful or ugly, grand or little but were we to attempt general rules for ranging objects under different claffes, according to thefe qualities, we should find ourselves greatly at a lofs. There is a separate caufe, which increases the difficulty of diftinguishing rifible objects by a general character: all men are not equally affected by risible objects and even the fame person is more difpofed to laugh at one time than another; for in high spirits a thing will make us laugh outright, that will scarce provoke a smile when we are in a grave mood. We must therefore abandon the thought, of attempting a general rule for diftinguishing rifible objects from others. They are however circumfcribed within certain limits; which I fhall fuggeft, without pretending to any degree of accuracy. And, in the firft place, I observe, that no object is rifible but what appears flight, little, or trifling; for man is fo constituted, as to be seriously affected with every thing that is of importance to his own intereft, or to that of others. A real distress raises pity, R 2 and

and therefore cannot be rifible; but a flight or imaginary diftrefs, which moves not pity, is ri fible. The adventure of the fulling-mills in Don Quixote, is extremely rifible; fo is the scene where Sancho, in a dark night, tumbling into a pit, and attaching himself to the fide by hand and foot, there hangs in terrible difmay till the morning, when he difcovers himself to be within a foot of the bottom. A nofe remarkably long or fhort, is rifible; but to want the nose altogether, far from provoking laughter, raifes horror in the fpectator. Secondly, With respect to works both of nature and of art, none of them are rifible but what are out of rule, fome re·markable defect or excess; a very long visage, for example, or a very fhort one. Hence nothing juit, proper, decent, beautiful, proportioned, or grand, is rifible.

Even from this flight fketch it will readily be conjectured, that the emotion raised by a rifible object is of a nature so fingular, as scarce to find place while the mind is occupied with any other paffion or emotion: and this conjecture is verified by experience; for we fcarce ever find this emotion blended with any other. One emotion I muft except; and that is, contempt raised by certain improprieties, such as what also pro ́voke laughter: every improper act infpires us with fome degree of contempt for the author; and fan improper act be at the fame time risible to provoke laughter, of which blunders and abfurdities

« AnteriorContinua »